Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter



Saint Pius V, Pope

Readings for Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 Acts 17:15, 22—18:1

We find St. Paul in Athens speaking to the pagans in one of their principle venues. His rhetoric uses their own beliefs to bring them to an understanding of first God the Father using their “Unknown God” as a jumping off point, telling them that God is not bound in gold, silver or stone but existing all around them, creator of all that is and will be.

When he gets to a point were he begins talking about Jesus and the Lord’s resurrection he looses most of them but some remain and the beginning of Christianity in that city has begun. From Athens they move to Corinth.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 148:1-2, 11-12, 13, 14
R. Heaven and earth are full of your glory.

Psalm 148 is a hymn of praise. In this selection we find it supporting the omnipotence of God proclaimed by St. Paul to the Athenians.

Gospel John 16:12-15

Jesus’ farewell speech continues. His reference to the coming of the Holy Spirit is explained further and the unity of the trinity comes into focus as the Lord tells his friends that this Advocate will give them what is also his (the Lord’s).

Reflection:

As important as Jesus’ farewell speech is, we need to look at what Paul is doing on his missionary trip in Acts today. What we see is St. Paul, a well educated and zealous evangelist delivering an apology or defense of Christianity to people who were not Jewish and were, in fact, unacquainted with the concept of a non-corporeal God.

He took them where they were, that is, he took the faith they had in their idols and attempted to move them past it. It was clear from his discourse that he had success. He was able to focus them on the fact that there was one God, unknown to them that was above all others. This was a pretty important step given the ingrained belief in the Greek’s mythology he was facing.

Where he ran into trouble was when he tried to get into the Jesus story. They could accept that there was a God they could not see, that was the creator of all that was. What they could not accept was that such a God could send his own son as a “man” into the world to die and rise from the dead. Even assuming, as we must, that this discourse was a summary of talks St. Paul gave over a period of months, this moved most of the people he was speaking with past were they were willing to go.

This whole tableau is important for us because we see in this story a problem we all face. We have come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, Son of the Living God, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit give us our life and our being. For others who have not been exposed to this understanding since their earliest years, this sounds so far fetched that they too scoff at the idea. We cannot forget how difficult it is to wrap one’s mind around our Triune God, first to just understand it and then to come to faith in Him. So often we assume that what has taken us a lifetime to understand should be instantly clear to others and become frustrated at their apparent lack of understanding.

When dealing with the world outside of the faith community we must, on and individual basis use St. Paul’s model. We must take people were they are and help them to the next steps. I hate to quote popular media, but to borrow a phrase from the movie “What About Bob”, we must use “baby steps”.

Pax

[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The image used today is “The Holy Family with God the Father and the Holy Spirit”, by Carlo Dolci, 1630

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter



Memorial of Saint Catherine of Siena,
Virgin and Doctor of the Church
[1]
(Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter)

Memorial of Catherine of Siena

Readings for Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 Acts 16:22-34

We are given another part of the first of the “we sections” in Acts. Here the events of Paul and Silas being first beaten and jailed, and then released is given. The jailer and those present interpreted the earth quake and its effect on the jail cells as a sign from God. This gave weight to Paul’s evangelical approach that led to their release and the jailer’s conversion.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 138:1-2ab, 2cde-3, 7c-8
R. Your right hand saves me, O Lord.

While Psalm 38 is a song of thanksgiving, here it supports the rescue of Paul and Silas who prayed and whose prayers were answered by divine intervention (“When I called, you ansered me”).

Gospel John 16:5-11

In this selection Jesus reemphasizes that he is returning to the Father and it is only when he does so that the Paraclete will be given to the disciples. Above the active support and guidance promised of the Advocate earlier, we now here of its role as judge.

Reflection:

The message we derive from scripture today is that we should be reassured and comforted because of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. Here is how we get to that; in the Gospel, we hear of the disciples’ state of mind. They are frightened; the Lord has just told them again that he is leaving them. He also said they should, in a sense, be glad because that event would be the immediate predecessor to the arrival of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, which would take his place in a mystical way. (We understand this because of our belief in the unity of the Triune God).

Next, although inversely because it was the first reading, we hear how these disciples (now Apostles) began to spread the word in a hostile environment. Although St. Paul was not one of the 11 or the 12 he was adopted as an Apostle and we find him in Philippi with Silas taking a beating and being jailed for the cause. We need to understand that these stories from the Acts are not intended to scare us but to make us aware that in spite of the message of peace and forgiveness we spread as Christ’s ambassadors, the world will not love us. In their situation, Paul and Silas, faithful in their captivity (praying and singing hymns of praise to the other prisoners), were helped by what seemed to be divine intervention. They turned a very bad situation into one which glorified God and advanced His cause.

That is how we get to the message today that we, as the modern heralds of the Lord, should be fearless in our proclamation. The Advocate is with us to support and guide us.
Pax

[1] The picture used is “Pope Aeneas Piccolomini Canonizes Catherine of Siena” by Pinturicchio, 1502-08
[2] After Links to Readings Expire

Monday, April 28, 2008

Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter


Saint Peter Chanel, Priest, Martyr [1]
Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, Priest

Additional Information about St. Peter Chanel
Additional Information about St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort

Readings for Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter[2][3]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 Acts 16:11-15

This passage recounts how St. Paul and his companions leave for Philippi in Macedonia. We hear of the conversion of Lydia and her family. It is not clear if Lydia is part of the Jewish Community of that region or like the Eunuch converted by Philip (
Acts 8:26-40) a “God-fearer” who embraced the concept monotheism. It appears that she gives St. Paul a base from which the rest of the community can be evangelized.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 149:1b-2, 3-4, 5-6a and 9b
R. The Lord takes delight in his people.

Psalm 149 is a communal song of praise, rejoicing in God’s kingship and inviting the faithful to celebrate his saving works. We rejoice because God brings victory to the lowly and hope to the oppressed.

Gospel John 15:26—16:4a

Jesus continues the theme of the strength to be given in the “Advocate”, the “Spirit of truth”, the Holy Spirit (see commentary on
John 14:15-21). In this instance he predicts to his friends that once they begin to spread the Good News he gives them, they will face serious condemnation from their own faith community.

Jesus tells them they will be martyred by people who believe they are doing God’s will. They do this because the people to not know Jesus or understand that the Father is in him and he is in the Father and he is in his dispels so his disciples are also in the Father. This foreknowledge is intended to strengthen them when their hour comes (“I have told you this so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you.”)

Reflection:

With only two more weeks to go before Pentecost, we are looking forward to our celebration of the great gift of the New Advocate. Holy Scripture reminds us of that impending event and gives us more information about what it can do for us if we are open to its guidance. We also get a pretty clear idea that, to our logical minds, following the guidance of that Holy Spirit might not be the safest thing to do.

Jesus tells his disciples that when they start spreading the Lord’s story to people who believe, as they do, in God and His salvation, they will not accept that Jesus was the fulfillment of all the Law and Prophets. They will reject the disciples, expel them from the Synagogues and kill them. St. John tells this story as the only Apostle not martyred but sent into exile. All of this probably would not have come to pass if the Lord had not left them the Holy Spirit to strengthen them (remember how they cowered in the locked room following his passion and execution?).

In the reading from the Acts of Apostles we see the Holy Spirit acting again as Lydia hears St. Paul’s words. We note that their fame (infamy) must have preceded them since they are not speaking in synagogues. Lydia hears the Word and confesses her faith being baptized with her whole household and invites St. Paul and his companions to use her house while they are in Philippi. We know the result of that visit as we later see St. Paul craft a letter to the church he establishes there.

We are reminded by these events that as we leave our doors today we enter Mission Territory and are called to be a voice for the Lord in that sometimes hostile land. We pray once more for the strength we were given in the Holy Spirit who will be our advocate and guide today.

Pax

[1] Note: Last year on this day (“Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter”) the Church celebrated the Feast of St. Matthias so no commentary or reflection was done on the readings of the day.
[2] After Links to Readings Expire
[3] The picture used today is “Lydia” by Johann Christoph Weigel, published 1695

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sixth Sunday of Easter


Readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 Acts 8:5-8, 14-17

St. Philip begins his missionary activities immediately following the death of St. Stephen. We hear many of the Hellenists were scattered following the deacon’s witness against the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. St. Philip goes with them into Samaria and proclaims the arrival of the Messiah in Christ. The Word is spreading through the persecution of Saul.

We note the omission of verses 9-13. From a historical perspective this passage speaks of the conversion of Simion the magician, important for the community in that it differentiated the signs being done by the Apostles and those believed to be sorcerers by the local inhabitants of the region This important distinction is qualified in Acts 8; 6-7; “With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing.”

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20
R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.

Psalm 66 is a song of thanksgiving. As it continues today the selection starts with part of the community blessing of the Lord and follows with the second and third strophes being individual response to the communal prayer. In the final strophe, v.20, we see the usual action of the person who has been rescued coming forward to teach the community what God has done.

Reading II 1 Peter 3:15-18

Speaking again to the persecuted Christian community, St. Peter tells them to always be ready to bear witness to their faith but to do so without condescension, with love. Witnessing in this way with “gentleness and reverence” and not being defensive or vehement, their attackers will look cause the Christians to look the victims giving no one a reason to punish them. In this way they were to follow the example of Christ who “suffered” (many sources read “died”) for all mankind, the righteous and the unrighteous.

Gospel John 14:15-21

The farewell speech of the Lord continues with the promise of the Holy Spirit – the Paraclete. We note he says “another advocate”; Jesus himself is the first advocate (in St. John’s Gospel the term used synonymously with spokesman, mediator, intercessor, comforter, and consoler). Jesus says this gift is “The Spirit of truth” (from the Quamram or Dead Sea Scrolls- a moral force put into a person by God.). This promise is made because the disciples are becoming worried and are afraid of being left without Jesus’ guidance. In addition to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he leaves his peace, not just the greeting “Shalom” but an inner peace that conquers fear.

Reflection:

As always on the Day of the Lord, we are asked to be imitators of Christ. Taken as a statement like; “All you need to do to earn a place in heaven is imitate Jesus of Nazareth and do what he asked people to do.” It sounds so easy, just this one thing. Yet, even with the practical advice given in Holy Scripture, we find living the commandments of Christ to be the hardest thing we have ever attempted.

We are constantly faced with opportunities to fall from grace. It is like walking a tight-rope, one moment of inattention, one false step and we loose our balance and fall. With deeper understanding of the message of Jesus we see how hard it is and may think, “Why try? There is no way I can be like that.”

Into our questioning and doubt comes the Lord with help for us. Through St. John he tells us (as he told his disciples) that even though he is going home – the join his Father in heaven, he is not making us orphans. He is leaving us with a “New Advocate”. He, who is both man and God, leaves us God, indwelling as a guide and counselor. We feel it as that inner voice guiding us, that warning voice telling us where not to go, that consoling voice that gives us hope.

Strengthened by the gift of the Holy Spirit, we should be convinced that what is asked of us by God’s perfect expression of love is possible, a reasonable expectation by the one who created us and should know. Even though we still doubt (who, after all, has seen the Holy Spirit? (AKA “Holy Ghost”)), we are called onward by the voice of Jesus “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.”

Ironically, it gets easier with that statement. If we love the Lord and know what pleases him, it becomes a matter of keeping our love for him in the back of our minds constantly. Like one we are desperately in love with is always on our mind; not to the point of distraction (that is obsession) but always near by.

Still, it is not easy what the Lord asks, commands! But he did not leave us without resources so we only need to reach for that strength and it will be there. We pray today for the strength to call on that font of hope and wisdom left to us by the Prince of Peace.

Pax

[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is “Blessing Christ” by Raffaello Sanzio, 1506

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter


Readings for Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 Acts 16:1-10

Paul finds Timothy, in this passage from Acts, that he later writes his great descriptions on the infrastructure of the Church. Together, they travel throughout the region and, as the reading says; “Day after day the churches grew stronger in faith and increased in number.” Paul had Timothy circumcised so he could minister to the Jews as well as the Greeks in their travels. Paul himself held fast to Jewish Law. God calls them onward.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 100:1b-2, 3, 5
R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.

Psalm 100 is a song of praise and thanksgiving. It is also the alternate invitatory psalm offered by the faithful in the Liturgy of the Hours as appropriate to begin the day’s prayer of the Church.

Gospel John 15:18-21

Jesus gives the disciples a paradox in telling them that while they are part of the world (meaning here, secular society) they are separated from that society through their association with Christ. He then reminds them that because they are his, they too will suffer persecution by those he (and they) come to save.

Reflection:

As we hear once more about the exploits of St. Paul on his great missionary journeys and the Lord in St. John’s Gospel instructing his disciples as to the kind of reception they will receive we are reminded of the story of the Magic Raincoat.

There was once a young boy who was terribly frightened of rain storms. The thunder and lightening caused him to run and hide and his parents were hard pressed to get him to come out from under the covers of his bead even for meals.

His mother knew that this fear was something the boy would have to overcome if he wanted to live a normal life so she went out and bought a brand new rain coat for her son. When she gave it to him she told him it was magic; that it had the power to resist even the most horrific storms and she was so lucky to have found it.

The very next time a storm came, she hurriedly put it on him and had him stand by the window. The storm winds whipped the trees, lightening flashed and thunder bellowed and the mother stayed there with her son in his yellow raincoat inside the windows and watched. The boy trembled at first, but the coat’s insulating protection and his mothers arm around his shoulders strengthened him and he was able to face his fear. The time after that, when again the storm clouds gathered, his mother had him run and put on the magic raincoat once more. This time she put on hers as well and they went out side. It was scarier when the boy could feel the wind blowing and the thunder was much louder; but again, he had the coat and it kept him dry, his mother was there and he could face his fear.

Like all good stories this one has a happy ending. The young boy eventually out grew his fear of storms (but he kept that magic raincoat anyway because his mother gave it to him). He went on to become a meteorologist of some renown.

The story of course is an allegory. The storm represents the secular world that rages against us. Jesus said to his friends “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first”. He knew the world would not like the message of love they would bring in his name.

In the story the little boy put on his magic coat to protect him from the storm’s fury. It is just like us, only we put on Christ. We first did this at our baptism. We were given the Holy Spirit that invites the power of God to be with us, to shelter us. We where that white robe proudly and it protects us from any storm.

I don’t think I need to go into who the mother in the story represents. How wise she was to accept her role as mother and bring us that savior to put on.

Today as we once more walk into the storm outside our doors we must remember to always put on Christ, his attitude of lover for all, his faith in His Father to whom all glory belongs.

Pax

[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture today is a woodcut “Jesus Teaches the Disciples” Artist UNKNOWN, published 1563

Friday, April 25, 2008

Feast of Saint Mark, Evangelist


Biographical Information about St. Mark[1]

Readings for the Feast of St. Mark[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Happy Feast Day to Brother Mark Thelen (I’m not sure of the appropriate order abbreviation).

Reading 1 1 Peter 5:5b-14

St. Peter, according to most scholars, probably wrote this letter just before his death in Rome (code named Babylon in our text today) between 65 and 67. This part of his letter encourages fidelity to the Lord in the face of persecution which comes from the devil. The mention of Mark at the end of this selection is probably referring to the Evangelist whose feast we celebrate today.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 89:2-3, 6-7, 16-17
R. For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.

Psalm 89 is a song of thanksgiving. The selection we have today links nicely back to the faithfulness so passionately encouraged by St. Peter above.

Gospel Mark 16:15-20

The verse just prior to this passage which is the ending of St. Mark’s Gospel indicates that the disciples are still not sure what has happened (typical of the image we have of the disciples in St. Mark's Gospel) and Jesus comes to them at table, rebuking them for their unbelief. That event sets the stage for this commissioning address by the Lord. Once again the Disciples now Apostles are sent into the world with God’s blessing.

Reflection:

How esteemed is St. Mark? Our gratefulness to him should be unbounded. He passed on the faith to so many generations that followed him. According to tradition, he traveled with the Lord when he walked the earth as true man. He is thought to be the young man who ran away (naked without Christ) when Jesus was arrested (
Mark 14:51-52),

We see in the first reading from the First Letter of St. Peter that he was Peter’s disciple following the death of Christ. The first Pontiff calls him “my son.” He is also thought to have traveled with St. Paul and his (Mark's) cousin St. Barnabas through Cyprus. Tradition also says he was an active teacher of the faith, founding a school Alexandria, Egypt where he was martyred, being dragged through the streets.

Although more is supposed about him than actually known, several facts are clear. First, he authored the earliest Gospel included in all canons of the Christian Bible. We believe that God so inspired him that his writings relate accurately the story of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and the part of his Gospel we hear today – his assumption to heaven where he sits at the right hand of the Father. Very few people in the history of the world accepted the call to transmit God’s truth in this way.

A second fact is that he was part of Jesus’ story. He was present for most of the Lord’s ministry and related that story as an eye witness following his death. He did this at a time when it was very dangerous to be a follower of Jesus and ultimately paid the price reserved for those for whom God had special use. The blood of the martyrs, we are told, spreads the faith more effectively than almost any other means.

We remember in a special way today the contributions of St. Mark and honor his memory with our own rededication to do all we can to continue to spread the Good News. We pray, today, that we will have the strength of convictions and faith the do so even in the face of adversity.

Pax

[1] The image today is “St. Mark” by Michele Di Matteo, 1427
[2] After Links to Readings Expire

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter


Saint Fidelis of Sigmaringen, Priest, Martyr

Readings for Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 Acts 15:7-21

The debate over whether the Gentiles must follow all of the Law of Moses continues as St. Paul addresses the Apostles in Jerusalem. Supported by St. Peter, he makes the fundamental argument that all are invited to be saved through faith in Christ. The “yoke” Paul speaks of is a reference to the “Yoke of the Torah” or the “Kingdom of Heaven” not necessarily a burden but a goal.

The response of St. James (same as the one related in
Gal 2:1-10) makes an apostolic decree. St. Luke here apparently combines two distinct events. The First Jerusalem Council which deals with circumcision and the second which deals with dietary laws.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 96:1-2a, 2b-3, 10
R. Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.

Once again today a song of praise and thanksgiving (Psalm 96 a Royal Psalm) is used in conjunction with the theme from Acts of announcing God’s salvation to all peoples of all lands.

Gospel John 15:9-11

Discourse on the union of Jesus with his disciples continues. His words become a monologue and go beyond the immediate crisis of Christ’s departure. In this passage Jesus focuses on the chain of love from the Father, through the Son, to us.

Homily:

“If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love…” We are given a very concise instruction in today’s Gospel and a very generous gift. The Lord offers us his love, his consolation, his peace and all he asks is that we keep his commandments. The most important of these he will utter in the verse from St. John’s Gospel that immediately follows our reading today– “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.”

There are, in the Book of the Law in the Old Testament, over 200 laws and commandments. Of all of those laws the ones that deal with behavior not with diet can be summarized in two short statements; “Love God” and “Love one another.” So the only question we need to answer is, how do we demonstrate that we are doing this?

We are given one person’s answer to that question in Blessed Damien, whose memorial we celebrate today. He exemplified “love one another” by going to the lepers in Hawaii and ministering to them. Be brought love to those who were outcast and unloved by the world. His was the extreme response to Christ’s call. What will ours be?

We start with where we are. We start with those with whom we have the most contact and we convey our love, Christ’s love to them. We then listen for God to give us other opportunities and respond as often as possible. In that way “…my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.”

Pax

[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture today is “St. James the Greater” by Alonso Cano, 1635

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter


Readings for Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Saint George, Martyr
or Saint Adalbert of Prague, Martyr

Commentary:

Reading 1 Acts 15:1-6

In this passage we see the issue being raised – should the Gentile Christians be required to follow ALL Hebrew Law (as Jesus and his disciples did). The practice they are debating today is circumcision and should the male Gentiles be required to be circumcised. It was a big enough deal to send Paul and Barnabas back to Jerusalem where we hear the debate continue.

This event helps us understand how teaching in the early Church was kept consistent. Peter and the Apostles were the authority. On important questions of the faith they were the ones who made decisions. Local Presbyters did not.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 122:1-2, 3-4ab, 4cd-5
R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.

Psalm 122 is a hymn of praise being used to echo the journey of Paul and Barnabas back to Jerusalem. The original singers would have been rejoicing at returning to the one temple.

Gospel John 15:1-8

We begin the discourse on the vine and the branches – really a monologue on the union with Jesus. It is still part of Jesus’ farewell speech. The familiar image of the Vineyard and the Vines is used which has imagery in common with
Isaiah 5:1-7; Matthew 21:33-46 and as a vine at Psalm 80:9-17; Jeremiah 2:21; Ezekiel 15:2; 17:5-10; 19:10; Hosea 10:1. The identification of the vine as the Son of Man in Psalm 80:15 and Wisdom's description of herself as a vine in Sirach 24:17. This monologue becomes a unifying tie that pulls everything together.

Reflection:

The theme of unification of Christians is strongly portrayed today. First we hear of Paul and Barnabas returning to Jerusalem to resolve and important issue within the infant Church. Rather than making an authoritative statement and thereby risking dividing the community (remember, this debate was started because other Jews from Judea had come to join their brethren. While they did not have the authority of Paul and Barnabas who were sent by Peter and the other disciples, they had undoubtedly been instructed by them and may have even been eye witnesses to the Lord’s Passion. It is, then, critical that Paul and Barnabas act as they did – get a consensus from the common authority. It also gives them a chance to reinforce the message they had seeded along the way. In this case, the vine had grown rapidly and sent off many branches.

In the second instance, the Lord’s own monologue in his farewell speech to the disciples is also speaking of the unity they must foster. He tells them in clear words “Remain in me, as I remain in you.” Here we leap to understanding of the presence of the Eucharist. From the vine’s fruit comes wine and the wine becomes the blood and the blood remains is us as we remain in him.

The picture painted is of concentric circles with the outer circle being the unity of the Church and the inner circle being our individual unity with Christ. Like rays shinning out from a central light, the inner circle that is the individual members support the outer against all forces. Imagery aside, our personal relationship with the Lord is bound up with his universal relationship with the Church. With her we remain in Him.

Pax

[1] After Links Expire
[2] The image today is the “Saint Preaching” by Jorge Ingl├ęs, 1455

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tuesday of Fifth Week of Easter


Readings for Tuesday of Fifth Week of Easter[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 Acts 14:19-28

In the first part of this passage, Paul is beaten and stoned but his zeal is not dampened. This selection recounts the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas. It describes the model of how the church was built. Paul and Barnabas would enter a region and proclaim the Good News. They would then identify leaders among the converted, entrust the word to them and then move on. Since the scripture says those converted were Gentiles we assume they did not, as they tried in Antioch, begin with the Synagogues.”

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 145:10-11, 12-13ab, 21
R. Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

Psalm 145 is a hymn of praise and thanksgiving. The link we are given is back to the first reading as the psalmist proclaims: “May my mouth speak the praise of the Lord, and may all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.” We give thanks for St. Paul and the other evangelists who fearlessly proclaimed Christ and him crucified.

Gospel John 14:27-31a

We hear Jesus continue his monologue to the disciples at the Last Supper. They are afraid because of what he has told them and now he calms their fears. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you.” He explains once more that he is returning to the Father so that the world might know his love for God and his faithfulness to the Father’s will.

Reflection:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” There were three great gifts left to us by Jesus and in this Gospel we hear the first one – Peace. The other two are his great sacrifice which took with it our sins and finally the gift we look forward to in just a few weeks not, the gift of the Holy Spirit. Today we try to accept the “peace” he left us.

We TRY to accept his peace because it is not offered as the world offers. The peace of Christ comes only with faith, hope and trust. It is said that a child’s ability to have faith in God is completely formed by the time that child is two years old. That statement, made by recognized authorities in the psychological field, is made because in those first two years the child has perfect trust and faith in its parents who love and nurture it. If that faith and trust is not there in their first two years, they cannot find it in God later in life.

We try to reach back into our innocent memories to accept the peace of Christ. Like children he calls us to place our faith in him. We must find that place in our hearts where there is complete confidence that he is with us. Like a small child, he has taken us by the hand and leads us down right paths, safe, in that inmost place, from any harm. How difficult it is to accept that peace. We look around and see all that the world casts our way.

As difficult as it is to find the peace of Christ, we cannot see our path clearly unless we try to accept it. The analogy has been made I believe best by Diodocious of Photice in his Treatise on Spiritual Perfection:

Therefore, we must maintain great stillness of mind, even in the midst of our struggles. We shall then be able to distinguish between the different types of thoughts that come to us: those that are good, those sent by God, we will treasure in our memory; those that are evil and inspired by the devil we will reject.

A comparison with the sea may help us. A tranquil sea allows the fisherman to gaze right to its depths. No fish can hide there and escape his sight. The stormy sea, however, becomes murky when it is agitated by the winds. The very depths that it revealed in its placidness, the sea now hides. The skills of the fisherman are useless.”

The peace of Christ is found in that stillness of mind to which Diodocious refers. Today let us try to find that place in our hearts, a place embodied in the bread of life, the grace Christ gives us in his second gift, the gift of his sacrifice.

Pax!

[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture today is “The Holy Family with a Lamb” by Raffaello Sanzio, 1507

Monday, April 21, 2008

Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter


Saint Anselm of Canterbury, Bishop, Doctor

Readings for Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 Acts 14:5-18

Again today, I cannot do better than the footnote on this selection: “In an effort to convince his hearers that the divine power works through his word, Paul cures the cripple. However, the pagan tradition of the occasional appearance of gods among human beings leads the people astray in interpreting the miracle. The incident reveals the cultural difficulties with which the church had to cope. Note the similarity of the miracle worked here by Paul to the one performed by Peter in
Acts 3:2-10.”

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 115:1-2, 3-4, 15-16
R. Not to us, O Lord, but to your name give the glory.

In this hymn of praise, we are again reminded the difference between God and idol as the song contrasts idolatry (“Their idols are silver and gold, the handiwork of men.”) with the Lord (“Our God is in heaven; whatever he wills, he does.”) It is a nice support to the reading from Acts.

Gospel John 14:21-26

We pick up the Lords dialogue with his disciples right after he has first promised to send the Holy Spirit (the new advocate – the Paraclete). He now reinforces that promise with a summation of his great commandment and then completes our understanding of the Holy Trinity with; “The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name--he will teach you everything and remind you of all that (I) told you.”

The Father and the Son are one and in the Name of the Son the Holy Spirit now remains with us.

Reflection:

Pentecost is still three weeks away and we are introduced to the New Advocate. Our focus in this Easter season is still on Christ Risen but since the Holy Trinity cannot be divided we are reminded of its presence today. It was the Gift he left us. It is the one we depend upon day by day to help us move toward the great ideal he left us.

I am reminded of a time when I went to a funeral home to do a Vigil Service. Because of other family commitments I was forced to take one of my teenage children with me. What makes this event memorable is that when I had finished the service and we were driving home, my daughter asked me; “Dad, where did you find the words to comfort people in that situation?” The question completely surprised me because I had not even thought about it, and worse, thinking back at that moment, I could not remember what I had said. It was then that I realized that sacramental grace had jumped up and taken my service where it needed to go. All I furnished was a “warm body” mine, and a will to do what God wanted, for his greater glory.

The answer I gave my daughter was not very satisfying. I think I said something like “I guess the Holy Spirit just helped out.” But there were no more questions so I guess that did the trick. The point of my anecdote is that the Lord sends his Holy Spirit to each of us. It is given in Baptism and strengthened by sacramental grace given in other forms as well (Eucharist, Reconciliation, Marriage, and Confirmation). All we need to do is relax and pray for God’s assistance, through His Son and it will be there.

Pax

[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The image today “Disputation over the Trinity” by Andrea del Sarto, 1517

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Fifth Sunday of Easter


Readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 Acts 6:1-7

This account from Acts is considered to be the institution of the diaconate or the Order of Deacons. There is a clear delineation of roles. The Apostles retain their pastoral role as shepherds of the faith (through “prayer and ministry of the word.”) while assigning the service role (distribution of food and material to the needy) to Stephen and his six brother deacons. It is noteworthy to observe that Stephen and Philip especially began their own service of the word as well.

Understanding the roots of the imposition of hands is key to understanding the rationale for its use in the ordained function. While this was a Hebrew tradition for designating a person for a task, it was later adopted by the Church as a mark of ordination and sacramental selection by God (see also the sacrament of Confirmation).

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19
R. Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.

This song of thanksgiving links nicely to the virtue of the seven deacons above (“Upright is the word of the Lord, and all his works are trustworthy”)

Reading II 1 Peter 2:4-9

St. Peter begins this selection exhorting the Christian reader to build the spiritual house of God, being part of that house and strengthening it through prayer and sacrifice (the reference here seems to point to the Eucharistic sacrifice common in the homes of the persecuted Church).

The passage continues with the “building” analogy, the use of the foundation and cornerstone simile. The NAB footnote on this passage provides good cross references to the use of these terms:” Christ is the cornerstone (cf
Isaiah 28:16) that is the foundation of the spiritual edifice of the Christian community (1 Peter 2:5). To unbelievers, Christ is an obstacle and a stumbling block on which they are destined to fall (1 Peter 2:8); cf Romans 11:11.”

Gospel John 14:1-12

This dialogue with the disciples is taking place at the Last Supper. Jesus has already responded to Peter and now Thomas chimes in with; “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” To which Jesus responds with a phrase known to all Christians “I am the way and the truth and the life.” He ends with another phrase that has been used and twisted throughout the history of Christianity; “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Also in this passage from St. John’s Gospel, part of the “Many Dwellings” discourse, we get a rare glimpse of the confusion in some of the disciples. St. Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father. This request is a platform for Jesus to once again remind them that He (Jesus) and the Father are one that they have seen him and they have seen the Father.

He concludes this passage with a clear statement about the power of faith in Him (Jesus), saying that whatever is asked for in his name will be granted. Note especially that Jesus says these prayers (requests) will be granted for the glory of the Father.

Reflection:

There is a joke going around that relates nicely to the overall theme of scripture today:

It seems there was a man driving through town during rush hour. Right behind him, tail-gating, was a woman. Driving very aggressively she followed him through a couple intersections and finally he came to a traffic light that turned yellow as he approached. Although he could have accelerated through the intersection he chose to stop for the light.

Immediately the lady behind started laying on her horn, screaming curses out the window, and gesturing with her hands in a manner unbecoming a lady. As the tirade continued, a police officer who had been behind her walked up to the car and asked her to step out. There he promptly handcuffed her, called to have the car towed and took her to the police station for booking. After she had spent about two hours in the holding cell following that procedure, the arresting officer came to the cell and said “Sorry for the delay ma’am, you may go now.”

The woman was infuriated and demanded that the officer explain why she was stopped, booked and detained like a criminal. The officer replied; “Well ma’am, when I pulled up behind your car and saw the bumper sticker that said “What would Jesus Do”, the chrome fish symbol with the word Jesus inside, and the vanity plate that read RU SAVED, and then I saw you in that car screaming obscenities and making those gestures to the driver in front of you, I naturally assumed that the car must have been stolen.”

In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles we see the Church appointing its first deacons to insure that the mercy and fidelity of Christ are carried to all the members of the believing community. They were selected, we are told, because they were “filled with the Spirit and wisdom.” One might ask, “Well, how did the Apostles know they were “filled with the Spirit and wisdom”? Did they go around asking the members of the faith community; “Excuse me, are you filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom?” Of course not, they selected these men because they had been observed by others to act in ways which told the community that they had those traits.

In the second reading, St. Peter tells the community; “…like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house”. The quote goes on with “…to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” This spiritual building that St. Peter calls for is an interior faith that manifests itself in an external way. It is only by the external actions of individuals that the community, depending upon the united actions of its entire membership, is built into the spiritual home that is the Church.

Finally, ultimately, in St. John’s Gospel the Lord himself says “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.” What can this mean but to tell us that we, who call him Savior and Lord, who proclaim him the Son of God, raised gloriously from the dead for our salvation, must act in the same way he did. We are to love as he did, universally and without reservation.

Today, five weeks following our Easter of Joy, we are reminded again what it means to have faith in the Risen Lord, Jesus. We are called to act in His Name to reveal the love of God the Father to all we meet so there will be no confusion about who we are and what we stand for. Challenging times lay ahead for us.

Pax


[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture selected for today is “Christ Crowned with Thorns” by Fra Bartolomeo, c. 1508

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter




Readings for Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 Acts 13:44-52

This excerpt is part of Paul’s first missionary trip. His encounter with the Jewish Community in Antioch begins with his exhortation about Jesus the Messiah to the members of that community. Much of what is said in the verses missing from this reading relate to how the Lord came in fulfillment of the scriptures.

We pick up in the second part of the reading were the Jews refuse Paul’s logical apology. He then turns to the Gentiles of the region who embrace the faith with great fervor, upsetting the Pharisaic community which then forces Paul to leave.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 98:1, 2-3ab, 3cd-4
R. All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.

Psalm 98 (much like Ps. 96) is a song of thanksgiving for God’s salvation. Once again, as the Hebrews saw this as salvation for the people of Israel from its enemies, we see the deeper expression of God’s love as he sent his Son for salvation and justice for the whole world.

Gospel John 14:7-14

In this passage from St. John’s Gospel, part of the “Many Dwellings” discourse, we find a rare glimpse of the confusion in some of the disciples. Here St. Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father. This request is a platform for Jesus to once again remind them that He (Jesus) and the Father are one that they have seen him and they have seen the Father.

He concludes this passage with a clear statement about the power of faith in Him (Jesus), saying that whatever is asked for in his name will be granted. Note especially that Jesus says these prayers (requests) will be granted for the glory of the Father.

Reflection:

Some days it is harder than others to hear God’s call and respond. Some days we know that our message to others will not be heard or we the messengers will be ineffective in bearing it. There is probably a great prayer somewhere for those of us who try to take God’s Good News out with us when we leave each day to go our various ways. Perhaps one of the best reminders around is one that used to hang inside a small church in rural Michigan over the main doors that read (as you exited) “Beware – you are now entering mission territory”.

St. Paul and Barnabas, in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles clearly knew they were in that situation. They are back in Pisidian Antioch and St. Paul had just finished his first kerygmatic proclamation. While his speech was eloquent, the Jews who were his first and principal audience rejected what he said. So he “took it to the streets” as they say. He proclaimed the message to the gentiles in this cosmopolitan trading city. To the Jews, this was a slap in the face; one of their own inviting non-believers to hear the word God which had been given to them, the chosen people. And worse, the gentiles hear the truth and love it.

We see the result of St. Paul’s initiative. The Jewish community, very influential in Antioch, has Paul and Barnabas driven from the area. But too late, the seed has been planted and it will grow; “…whatever you ask in my name, I will do.” We see those words at work with the spreading of the Good News.

Today I will tell you, my vigil is complete and my mother has passed from this world to the next. What a great lady she was. Though most of you do not know her, as I now go forward into the most difficult situation I have ever faced to proclaim the good news of the resurrection (I speak of my grieving family), I leave you with a poem that she had clipped out of an old news paper and left for us by the place where she would sit and read before her final illness. It reminds me of a passage from Thessalonians but I leave that to you to judge as well.

Turn Again to Life

If I should die and leave you here awhile,
be not like others, sore undone,
who keep long vigil by the silent dust and weep.
For my sake, turn again to life and smile,
nerving thy heart and trembling hand to do that
which will comfort other souls than thine;
Complete these dear unfinished tasks of mine,
and I, perchance may therein comfort you.
– Mary Lee Hall

Pax

Please pray for Esther.
May her soul and the souls of all the just, rest in peace.

[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The image today is “Christ taking leave of his apostles” by Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1308-11

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter



Commentary:

Reading 1 Acts 13:26-33

In the passage from Acts today we find Paul on his first missionary journey to Asia. He is speaking to a mixed crowd of Jews and Gentiles, explaining that Jesus came to fulfill what was written in the Hebrew Scriptures. He concludes his discourse with a quote from Psalm 2 which is used as our psalm response.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 2:6-7, 8-9, 10-11ab
R. You are my Son; this day I have begotten you.

Psalm 2 is a “royal psalm”. The proclamation of adoption is set in legal terms of the day to establish the relationship between people and God. We hear in this language the baptismal adoption we received, making us God’s children and favored above all creation.


This dialogue with the disciples is taking place at the Last Supper. Jesus has already responded to Peter and now Thomas chimes in with; “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” To which Jesus responds with a phrase known to all Christians “I am the way and the truth and the life.” He ends with another phrase that has been used and twisted throughout the history of Christianity; “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Reflection:

During the Easter season especially the Story of Jesus gets kind of inverted as we are given stories from the Acts of the Apostles which followed his death and resurrection followed by the Gospel which proceeded that event. Today we hear St. Paul taking the Word, the Good News, into the world. He tells the story once more, again reaching into his scholarly training to link the prophetic literature in the Hebrew scriptures to the events that culminated in the Lord’s passion and death.

Against this broad picture of Christ’s mission, painted so eloquently with St. Paul’s words, we have an important event in Christ’s ministry pulled out in sharp relief. We are transported to the Lord’s Supper - that final meeting with his disciples in the upper room. Jesus is trying to reassure them that what is about to happen, even though it will end in his death, is not the end of their time together. Indeed, it is only the beginning.

Jesus tells them that in the heavenly kingdom there is a place for them, he is going on ahead of them to make it ready. The promise of eternal life with Christ is once again reiterated; “… that where I am you also may be.” If we believe that Jesus is the Christ, as he told us, we must, per force, believe that our place in the kingdom where he has been for all time, is our destination as well.

Today I am in my father’s home in Midland, Michigan. I am waiting with my brother and sisters for my mother, Esther, to pass from this life to the next. I am struck by how difficult it is for those of us who keep that vigil to be at peace in our faith in the resurrection and how at peace my mother is as she rapidly wings her way home to that promised dwelling.

We share St. Thomas feeling of impending loss and his almost childlike doubt; “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Then comes into this time of testing “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Hearing these words, his promise, we are reassured and know, beyond doubt that we will be reunited one day. We pray today for all who are called home to the Father and for those who mourn - may this reminder of his great love for us sustain them in their time of pain.

Pax

Please pray for Esther, she is hearing God’s voice calling her home.

[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is “Christ Glorified in the Court of Heaven” by Fra Angelico, 1428-30

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter


Readings for Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 Acts 13:13-25

This is the first of several instances recorded in Acts that St. Paul uses his scholarly knowledge of the Hebrew tradition to build up logical rationale for Jesus as savior and Messiah. In this passage that development ends as he recounts the history of God’s covenant with the Jewish people from their exodus from Egypt under Moses to the appearance of John the Baptist, a contemporary figure about whom these people would have been aware.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 89:2-3, 21-22, 25 and 27
R. For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.

Psalm 89, taken as a whole, is a communal lament. This selection rejoices in God’s establishment of the Davidic Dynasty and the promise of heavenly support for his kingdom.

Gospel John 13:16-20

This passage from St. John’s Gospel is set in the upper room following the Passover meal that was to be the Last Supper. The author’s account of the washing of the disciple’s feet and the immediate aftermath differs from the Synoptic versions in that here the Lord announces his foreknowledge of the events to follow. Jesus uses this predictive ability to bring the reader to belief in Christ as the Son of God (“…I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”)

Homily:

Have you ever walked into a place, whether it was the workplace, school, or even the kitchen and known in your heart, “this is going to be a good day”? The final passage from St. John’s Gospel must have given that feeling to St. Paul as he was called to “exhort the people”.

It is hard for us in this modern age to appreciate how large the world was in the day of Jesus (and Paul). The fact that St. Paul (Saul) the student of the famous Rabbi Gamaliel, had been converted to Christianity would probably not have been known to the local Jewish community. It would have been logical for the local leadership to have known about him as a prominent figure from Jerusalem and invite him, as a guest and student of that famous teacher, to speak to the community. When St. Paul received that invitation he must of thought, praising God, “this is going to be a good day.”

With all that educated credibility behind him he was able to walk the listening Jewish faithful right through the history of God’s revelation to them. Starting with Moses, the giver of the law, he recalled the judges, the kings, and the prophets and how God’s promise flowed from one to the next down to King David and how God’s promise to David lead first to John the Baptist, herald of he Messiah who followed him, the one sent by God, who was God. It must have been glorious to see the light of realization dawn upon them.

For us too, we look for opportunities to reveal Jesus to those about us. We hear not just the command to take that word to the world in Jesus’ conversation with his disciples (“Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master, nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.”) We also hear the promised support “…whoever receives the one I send receives me”. What a tremendous gift we take to those who find Christ in us. We will truly be blessed.

Pax

Pleas pray for Esther, the Lord calls her more urgently now.

[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture today is “Washing of the Feet” by Giovanni Agostino da Lodi, 1500

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter


Readings for Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 Acts 12:24—13:5a

In this story from Acts we hear of the first missionary effort into Asia Minor. The Holy Spirit influences this action through Prophets among the members the missionary church at Antioch to send Barnabas and Saul. Note, the effort begins on Cyprus in the Synagogues. The word spreads.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6 and 8
R. O God, let all the nations praise you!

While Psalm 67 is a group lament or petition asking for a bountiful harvest, this selection points to the universal salvation promised by God to all the peoples.

Gospel John 12:44-50

Setting the stage for this passage from St. John’s Gospel, we find Jesus in the Temple precincts again, this time after his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. He has been teaching and while many believed that he was the Messiah, the Pharisees were intimidating and most did not acknowledge this belief. Jesus expresses his frustration in this passage as we hear; “Jesus cried out and said, "Whoever believes in me believes not only in me but also in the one who sent me”.

Jesus goes on to explain that he and the Father are one and that not only was he sent by God, but that all he said, is saying, is from God. We note also that Jesus says that those who do not believe in him, He will not condemn; rather they condemn themselves through their own actions and will be so judged on the last day.

Reflection:

There are some intriguing words in the Gospel today. Jesus says “And if anyone hears my words and does not observe them, I do not condemn him, for I did not come to condemn the world but to save the world.” What a remarkable difference he expresses between the God of Justice seen by the Jews of his time and the God of Love he reveals.

We cannot help but think about the analogues relationship between parent and child. The parent sets up rules to keep the child from harming itself or others. As the child grows, it sees these rules as boundaries, a fence, a cage, a line past which they must not pass. If they do, and get caught, they will be punished. It is in this way that parents teach their children to stay safe and to integrate with society as a whole.

Some children are more rebellious than others. They see the rules as too restrictive – not meant for them, and, as soon as they are able, they flee the rules thinking that the rules themselves were a punishment when their intent was to keep the child safe. Like the fish in an aquarium that jumps out of the tank seeking freedom, too many of these find death instead of freedom. The rules intended to keep them safe have failed and the parents of these children suffer that loss.

Some children obey the rules but still do not recognize them for what they are, a safety net. They think of their parents as prison guards whose only purpose is to see that the rules are followed. In most cases, as these children get older, they think of their parents as pretty dull witted, out of step with the modern age – backwards because of their restrictive regulations. It is not until these children get much older that they realize the purpose of the rules and the intelligence of the parents.

It was the same with God and the Jews. They saw God as the keeper of the Law. If someone broke the law they were punished, by God. If someone was apparently punished, that is if something bad happened to them, the community assumed that God had seen them sin and the visible proof was the punishment.

Jesus changed all that. It was like a child who for the first time understands that the rules they grew up with were not meant as a burden or a punishment from their parents, but were an expression of love. Jesus said in no uncertain terms for the first time, “I love you!” to the people of the world. This is the message handed to us. This is why he did not come to condemn the world. We, in turn, are asked to make sure we pass this message on. We also see that, like parents who want to keep their children from harm, sometimes we must deliver an unpopular message. Today we pray for the strength to be that message.

Pax

Please pray for Esther.

[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The Picture today is “Ruins with St. Paul Preaching” by Giovanni Paolo Pannini, 1735